The joy of books
One of the best things about being a parent (and teacher for that matter) is sharing books with children. My children and I particularly enjoy bedtime stories where we have uninterrupted time together exploring fantasy lands with fantastical characters. I’ve written before about reading recommendations for short stories at bedtime, with suggestions from a great range of teachers and parents.
The purpose of this page is to share some of the longer, chapter books we’ve been reading at bedtimes, and add to it over time. It will evolve into a large collection of books suitable to be read with/to/by children roughly aged between 7 and 11.
A note of caution. I have noted down some of the comments made by the children about the books and they occasionally contain some spoilers, but nothing too detrimental to your enjoyment of the stories.
Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest – Vashti Hardy
The Iron Forest is the first in a series of Harley Hitch books by Vashti Hardy. Hardy’s previous books include Brightstorm and Wildspark and I would say that the Harley Hitch series are aimed at slightly younger readers – maybe around 7-9 year olds.
Harley lives with her two Grandads and is a keen problem solving inventor who goes to Cogworks School in Forgetown. When a mysterious fungus is discovered in the Iron Forest, Harley is keen to help find a solution to the destruction of this important eco-system, almost too keen. She is desperate to solve the mystery in order to win Pupil of the Term and beat her nemesis, Fenelda Spiggot.
Harley is a likeable central character, but she does have a tendency to rush into things and not take advice from those around her. By the end, she does learn this lesson and, with the support of her friends and family, is able to make everything right.
My boy really enjoyed this one and he’s keen to read the next in the series. As it’s well within his ready capability, I’ll leave it for him to enjoy on his own though. It’s great for an 8 year old, but it doesn’t have enough depth for his 40 year old dad to be desperate to find out what happens next.
Tom, age 8, says: “I liked it because you don’t get many books about inventing and I’m interested in inventing. I really liked the fish that helped Harley understand how to solve the problem in the Iron Forest. I liked Cosmo because he was good at coming up with ideas after going to the library. I also liked the Grampas because they were good at supporting Harley even when she made mistakes.”
A Mouse Called Miika – Matt Haig
We first came across Miika in ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ where he acts as a curious supporting character who narrates occasional thoughts about the extraordinary goings on that he witnesses. Released around the same time as the film of that book, A Mouse Called Miika gives a little more detail to the background of the mouse, but mostly focuses on events that happen shortly after the conclusion of the first book.
Miika is a friendly mouse with human, elf and pixie friends but only knows one other mouse – Bridget the Brave. Through the book, Miika tries to please Bridget and be a good mouse-friend but at the end realises that actually Bridget hasn’t ever really been a good friend to him. He realises, with the help of the ever-wonderful Truth Pixie, that he’s better off being disliked for who he is rather than being liked for who he isn’t.
As ever, Matt Haig writes fabulously constructed books for children with fantastic nuggets of wisdom interwoven for readers of all ages. I particularly liked the quote below which comes towards the end of the book. I can see myself using in when talking to Year 6 children before they move up to secondary school.
Tom, age 8, says: “I thought it was really interesting to listen to. He meets Bridget the Brave and to start off with it was a good relationship, then it wasn’t, then it was again, then it wasn’t again. Relationships can be like that sometimes. It was really courageous of Miika when he said that he was the cheese thief but sadly he got flattened by the troll’s foot. In the end he learned that it’s ok to be who you are and not try to be someone else. It’s a good message for children who read the book.
The Night Bus Hero – Onjali Q. Rauf
It’s rare that you don’t like the central character in a book, but in The Night Bus Hero, Hector is particularly unlikeable to the majority of the story. He’s a bully and it’s a really interesting take to tell a story through this lens. Rauf doesn’t really make us try to sympathise with his awful behaviour, but we do get to understand some of his motivations and his thinking.
This would be a fantastic book to read aloud to a class because of the two main central themes of bullying and homelessness. I can imagine it starting interesting conversations within class and certainly giving the children a better understanding of the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.
The Night Bus Hero is a modern classic that I have been thoroughly recommending to many people ever since we finished it.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s was unusual at the start because Hector was being a bully and I didn’t like him. It’s different when you go from a bullies point of view. I enjoyed the book very because as you get further into the book Hector becomes more of a nice person. The favourite bit was when they broke in and crept through to catch the thief. My favourite character was Thomas because he was interesting and clever and has a good name.”
When Life Gives You Mangoes – Kereen Getten
When Life Gives You Mangoes is different to our usual bedtime stories. It’s a little more serious, but certainly not boring or without humour. It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl called Clara with lives with her mum and dad in a Jamaican coastal village. Clara seems to be quite a normal 12 year old, except something happened to her last summer that she can’t remember and this story is her journey to get those memories back and understand what’s really going on.
I adored this book. The characters are all relatable and wonderfully written and developed. I don’t really want go into too much detail because there is an awesome twist that stayed with us for a good few days after reading. All I will say is, read this book.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s really good because there are surprises along the way. I really like how Clara faces her fears and went back in the water. I liked Rudy because she was fun and positive and supported Clara. I’ve never read a book with a big twist like this and I really recommend it.”
I Lost My Granny in the Supermarket – Jo Simmons
Another humorous and intriguingly titled book by Jo Simmons. Her last few books have centred around four friends and this time it’s the turn of Harry to be the focus of the adventure. Harry desperately wants a puppy and his mum agrees that if he earns enough ‘puppy points’ by doing chores, his dream will come true.
In order to receive a large chunk of ‘puppy points’ to push him tantalisingly close to the required total he has to do one (not so) simple task – look after his Granny. The problem is that she doesn’t want to be looked after, or do any of the things she is meant to be doing.
To be honest, it’s all a bit daft for the most part. However, when Harry finally catches up with Granny and they have a heart-to-heart, the story becomes a lot warmer and sentimental.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s a really funny book. Harry is trying to look after his Granny, but she keeps escaping from him. The funniest time is when she went to the theme park and Harry ended up as a chipmunk. The book would be good for children aged 6-11. All of the other characters from Jo Simmons’ books are in it too. I think Harry can go on all the rides at Fun Valley now that he works for them and he’s definitely tall enough.”
The Battle for Roar – Jenny McLachlan
We adored the first two Roar books, so the third in the series had a lot to live up to. However, we’ve come to trust Jenny McLachlan’s writing, so we knew it wasn’t going to disappoint.
The first hundred or so pages are a pleasant journey where the main characters get back together and explore, as yet unvisited, parts of this imaginary world. All the while there is the looming sense of uncertainty surrounding Crowky and the reader just knows he’s out there somewhere. The biggest twist in this story though, is that he turns out to not be the greatest danger to our heroes.
I won’t give anything more away, just to say if you’ve not yet discovered Roar for yourselves, it’s definitely time you gave it a go.
Tom, age 8, says: “Wow, that’s an amazing book, I hope there’s a fourth! It’s fun because it can be scary (like when Arthur gets trapped with Crowky) but it always ends up fine. There were loads of best bits but I loved it when they flew on the Crowgon. Win is still amazing and it was brilliant that he ended up with a dragon.”
Mr Gum and the Power Crystals – Andy Stanton
I think this could be my favourite Mr Gum book. There are some wonderfully silly and funny moments and it features Old Granny who has a sneaky fondness for sherry, teaches everyone about the old ways and gives this particular reader a chance to show off a wonderful impression of an octogenarian from the West Country.
After finding the Power Crystals, Polly discovers that they have magical powers and want to cause harm to her beloved Lamonic Bibber. She is desperate to not them fall into the hands of Mr Gum and Billy William, but she is powerless to stop the inevitable. As ever though, her band of friends come together to save the day in this dramatic, heart-warming and very funny story.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s really funny. My favourite bit is when Old Granny tells Polly about what Mr Gum is going to do so that Polly can try and stop them. My favourite character is Polly because she is so brave when she faces up against Mr Gum, Billy William and Nicolas De Twinklecakes. I was a bit worried when it sounded like Lamonic Bibber was going to burn and burn, but it was ok in the end.”
The Incredible Record Smashers – Jenny Pearson
Having enjoyed Jenny Pearson’s first book (Freddie Yates – see below) so much, we’ve had The Incredible Record Smashers on pre-order for months. In both books Pearson manages to take the central character on epic adventures with hilarious consequences while also addressing some very sensitive issues in a child appropriate way. In Record Smashers, the main character (Lucy) has a mother who suffers with depression and the child’s perspective of this is handled brilliantly.
The central premise is that Lucy desperately wants to make her mum happy again and she believes that she can do this by reconnecting her with an old friend. Along the way she attempts a range of world records, with varying degrees of success, gets embroiled with a criminal family, befriends a watermelon and learns an awful lot about herself.
Record Smashers is a heart-warming story of friendship and family and would make an excellent class read across KS2. It’s capable of making you laugh and cry and may even inspire you to break a world record of your own.
Tom, age 8, says: “It was really funny, especially when Lucy made Sandesh wear the gold costume. I really enjoyed the bit where Sandesh played the piano with all of his body parts, it was really fun. My favourite character was Lucy because she kept persevering when she was trying to make her mum happy.”
The Bus Stop at the End of the World – Dan Anthony
I can’t remember who recommended this one to me and it’s not my usual sort of book I’d go for, but it’s still made an impact. It took a while for me and the boy to get into this book. He kept on saying, ‘it’s a bit weird this story’, and I had to agree.
As the title would suggest, the story is largely set at a bus stop. This bus stop is located at the point where two major ancient ley-lines cross and it’s the centre of some very strange goings-on.
The story is about a boy called Ritchie and how he sort of saves the World as we know it, but more by luck than judgement for the most part. Along the way we grows in confidence and it helps him overcome problems in other parts of his life. In the end it turned out to be quite a heart-warming tale of bravery and adventure (without really going anywhere).
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s good, but kind of weird. I liked all of the creatures appearing magically through the book and when they found the stone. I really like Ritchie because he was brave when he fought the Spannermen and the Collins gang.”
The Nothing to See Here Hotel – Steven Butler
This is the first in a fun little series of books about a boy who lives with his family in a hotel they run for magical creatures. It reminded me out the Hotel Transylvania trilogy of film, but with more trolls and less vampires. It went down well with my boy and it’s probably perfect children in lower key stage 2 to read on their own or with an adult.
As it’s the first book in the series we’re introduced to a great range of weird and wonderful characters who either frequent the hotel in one way or another. All is going along rather nicely until a very demanding royal visitor turns up with his vast entourage and the hotel is turned on it’s head.
The Nothing to See Here Hotel is an enjoyable romp with a load of giggles and excitement.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s really exciting and funny. It’s exciting because a family of trolls chase after a goblin prince called Grogbah and they all make a big mess. My favourite character is Frankie because he saves Hoggit. I also like the Molar Sister because of the way they speak. I recommend it highly and would like to read more of the series.”
Wed Wabbit – Lissa Evans
A sort of modern day Alice in Wonderland, Wed Wabbit follows Fidge who takes an accidental trip into the world of her little sister’s favourite book and, with an unlikely band of heroes, goes on an epic quest to save the Wimbley Woos from the evil dictator, Wed Wabbit, and return to their old world with her sister’s precious soft toy.
For a children’s book, this was a bit of a slow build. I found myself really getting in to it once all of the main characters had met up on around page 90, but then I became increasingly invested and by the end we didn’t want to finish the book at all.
Personally, my favourite characters were: Ella the Elephant who has a flair for the dramatic, is wonderfully supportive and positive and has a brilliant turn of phrase; and the King who knows he has to end every line with a rhyme but really can’t be bothered, so just makes up nonsense words to finish off whatever he wants to say.
Wed Wabbit isn’t necessarily the sort of book I would normally choose, but we really enjoyed it and we’d love for there to be a follow up.
Tom, age 8, says: “It’s amazing. It’s really funny that Minnie and Wed Wabbit can’t say the letter r, so when Wed Wabbit speaks, it’s hilarious. My favourite bit is when Fidge meets up with Ella, Graham and Dr Carrot in Wimbley Land. My favourite character is Graham because he gets brave at the end.”
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates – Jenny Pearson
This book has more twists and turns than a Super G event. It came highly recommended and it did not disappoint one bit. Jenny Pearson’s writing is very funny, that much is clear, but I also loved the fact that serious issues were covered in a very relatable and empathetic way. Although the main character in the book (Freddie) is dealing with loss and trying to understand it, it’s never dark or particularly sad, it’s more comically poignant.
The story centres around the journey Freddie and his two best friends make at the start of their Summer holiday. It takes them along the south coast of Wales. As they meet an interesting range of diverse Welsh characters, it gives those of use who enjoy ‘doing the voices’ while reading aloud, the perfect opportunity to experiment with a glorious range of hearty Welsh accents.
The Miraculous Journey that the boys go on is absolutely brilliant. It gets better and better with many a jaw-dropping laugh along the way. I can’t recommend this book enough and it will doubtlessly a birthday or Christmas present for years to come.
An added bonus is that the illustrator is, lockdown hero, Rob Biddulph. If you’ve not yet spent time with your children, at home or in school, following a #DrawWithRob video, then you really must.
If you and your children enjoy the books of Jo Simmons, then this one should be next on your list.
Tom, age 7, says: “I really like it because it’s really funny and you can learn facts from it as well. My favourite fact was that pigs can’t look up, so they’ve probably never seen the stars.”
Daisy and the Trouble with Kittens – Kes Gray
It’s been a while since I’d read any ‘Daisy…’ books. I’d not missed them. There is most certainly a formula to them that I’d had enough of. But then, I’m 39 and not really the target market. My children like them and that’s what matters.
Kes Gray really gets children. He appeals to them through his narrative, but also writes from their perspective really well. This is why my children have always really enjoyed his stories. My daughter chose ‘Kittens’ as our next story because she loves kittens, I’m not so keen, but it was actually quite fun.
As well as the usual adventures and mishaps, there are a few sensitive moments in the book about how mum is coping as a single parent. There are also enough asides in these books to keep me chuckling along. It might not be so long until I read another one.
Wonder – R. J. Palacio
Having seen the movie first (I know, the wrong way around!), we were keen to to read the book. It’s written from the perspectives of various characters – family, friends and Auggie himself -a small boy who has a genetic differences affecting his face – as he ventures into starting middle school for the first time. As he starts school, we learn children can be cruel sometimes but with the support of family, the advice of excellent teachers and the loyalty of true friends, Auggie perseveres. His world reveals itself as bright, funny, and full of life.
It’s a heart-warming and touching book with an unusual format and eye-opening opportunity to step into other people’s shoes. It’s sensitively written and really uplifting but doesn’t pull any punches with the social and medical difficulties Auggie faces. I loved sharing it with Tom and I think having a child as the protagonist, a child who has difficult obstacles to overcome, is valuable and some of Mr Browne’s precepts will stay with us forever!
Tom, age 7, says: “It was brilliant. I loved it when Auggie and Jack first became friends and I liked it that Auggie forgave him and they became friends again. It was great that he won an award.”
Mr Gum and the Goblins – Andy Stanton
The third book in the Mr Gum series sees Polly and the gang go in search of retribution for the lovely Mrs Lovely, who has been duffed up by some wrong’uns. Their journey takes them to Goblin Mountain, where they overcome some deadly(ish) challenges to make it to the cave where the Goblin King and his goblin army are making plans to attack and overrun Lamonick Bibber.
As ever, Andy Stanton’s surreal and silly humour appeals to both children and adults. There are many nods to literary and wider pop culture throughout the book that bring a range of wry smiles and chortles along the way.
I love Mr Gum books. The humour and loveable characters make them a joy to read and share with my children. I must confess though, if there was one thing I’d not that in to, it’s the Spirit of the Rainbow. I really don’t like the do-gooding little fella.
Bella, age 5, says: “It was really good because it was all ok in the end. I liked that Polly and Friday O’Leary kept going and didn’t give up.”
Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire – Andy Stanton
Although this is the second book in the series, this was the first Mr Gum book I ever read when I was a trainee teacher. I loved it, and have since read it to both of my children and many of the classes I have taught.
It’s the story of a very wealthy gingerbread man with some curious ideas about friendship. The evil Mr Gum and his side-kick Billy William, steal the money and try to escape to France. Fortunately, a little girl called Polly and her friend Friday are on their trail to save the day. Despite a few set backs (and a lot of laughs) along the way, all ends well.
Bella, age 5, says: “I liked that Jake showed up in the end, because Polly was missing him and she was worried. I also liked that Alan Taylor and that he got his money back and threw it in the air.”
Father Christmas and Me – Matt Haig
This is the final instalment of Matt Haig’s Christmas trilogy and the festive magic is very much still alive in Elfhelm. We’ve read each of the books, in order, over the last 3 Decembers, and it’s been a lovely Christmas tradition we’re sad has come to an end.
On the surface, Father Christmas and Me, is another epic adventure for Amelia, who we met in the second book. She struggles to feel accepted in Elfhelm and find her place living amongst the elves. She thinks about leaving, but ends up trying to become a journalist, an honest one. For a timeless Christmas classic, this book is also pretty topical, exploring themes of immigration, fake-news, Trumpism (Vodalism) and nationalism.
Above all, Matt Haig is just a bloomin’ good writer. The arc of all three books are beautifully created and always leave the reader guessing how the loose ends will be tied up. The loose ends are tied up and although there are a lot of worrying moments throughout, hope always wins. What I particularly enjoy are the moments throughout the book that bring a wry or knowing smile.
Throughout the truth is important. The perceived truth and the actual truth are not always the same thing. But the Truth Pixie is on hand to make the distinction and, as with other Matt Haig books, she steals the show.
The first book, A Boy Called Christmas, has been made into a movie and will be released in November 2021. This means that our Christmas Matt Haig tradition can continued for one more year at least, but I very much hope that the other books will be made in to films as well.
Tom, age 7, says: “It was sometimes scary, but mostly fun. I liked that Amelia went back to London in the end and told the stories to the children in the orphanage that she had built. Father Christmas is my favourite character because he always tries to help everyone.”
I Stole My Genius Sister’s Brain – Jo Simmons
One of the things Jo Simmons does particularly well is come up with names for her books. As ever, with a title like this, the children are keen to choose it and find out what happens. Another thing I like is that, even though I start to think I know where the story is going, it takes a whole different turn, and is far from predictable.
The things the children do in Jo’s books are always extraordinary, but the children themselves are always relatable and likeable. The siblings at the centre of the story have a great relationship. They disagree about things and fall out occasionally, but there is really warmth between them and they support each other to be better. The parents on the other hand are rubbish. Almost too much. But they just about redeem themselves in the end.
Keith may not succeed in stealing his sister’s brain, but he certainly improves his relationship with his family and makes them better people. This is a very funny book with some extremely likable characters, not least the wonderful Keith and his lovely grandad.
Tom, age 7, says: “It was exciting and very, very funny. I definitely can’t wait to read the next Jo Simmons book, I hope it’s good. My best bit was when Keith’s fans went into his garden and started chanting his name. I highly recommend this book.”
Return to Roar – Jenny McLachlan
This is the second in the trilogy of Roar books which we were desperate to read as we had enjoyed the first one so much. Expectations were high, and I’m relieved and delighted to announce that it did not disappoint.
Arthur and Rose have now started secondary school and are navigating their way through Year 7 and the changes and challenges it presents. The friendship issues are brilliantly handled by McLachlan who excellently describes the complexities of relationships within peer groups that are familiar to us all.
Back in Roar, the children are looking for an adventure over their half term break, and they certainly find one. Their nemesis, Crowky, is back as well as a new dark, character of Hati Skoll (a nod to Norse mythology). Both are menacing characters and just the right side of terrifying for KS2 children.
Fortunately for the twins, they are joined on this adventure by their friends Win and Mitch. This is the first time we meet Mitch (a mermaid/witch) and her particular set of skills prove to be most useful along the way. Win (wizard/ninja) is back and is probably my favourite character. He can be over enthusiastic at times, which leads to more than more problems, but his enthusiasm and humour make him particularly loveable.
Return to Roar is all about facing your fears and standing up to people who try to control you. Everyone with children should buy these books and read them together. They are simply brilliant.
Tom, age 7 says, “My favourite character is Arthur because he is really brave. I enjoy the books because they are quite scary, but they have loads of adventures along the way. I can’t wait for the next book.”
The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Andy Shepherd
This is the first in the series of books about raising dragons by Andy Shepherd. It all begins when the Tomas find a dragon fruit plant and takes one of the fruits home to research it. Low and behold, the fruit hatches and out pops a dragon.
Many adventures follow as Tomas tries to learn how to look after his dragon, eventually getting his friends involved. It’s particularly tricky when he takes the dragon in to school and has to try and keep him a secret from the ever prying school bully. A highlight for my son was the fact that dragon poo explodes when it dries out – this can be particularly hazardous.
The Land of Roar – Jenny McLachlan
We LOVED this book. It’s a magical adventure featuring dragons, a wizard, mermaids and a particularly scaring scarecrow. The journey Arthur and Rose go on is truly epic as they venture through a portal in their Grandfather’s loft into a realm created by their own imaginations.
The adventure they go on in order to save their Grandfather is incredible and full of danger and excitement. However, it is how the relationships between the characters develop that I really enjoyed. The twins at the centre of the story are growing apart at the beginning. This is often the case with siblings, as they mature at different rates and find different interests. It’s lovely to see them grow closer together as they find a new respect for each other and remember how much fun they can have when they believe.
The Land of Roar is a modern classic and I’m sure it will be made into a major feature film at some point soon. The follow up, ‘Return to Roar’, has recently been published, and it’s already in the pile of books next to my bed, waiting to be enjoyed.
Tom, age 7 says, “It was very, very dangerous at times, but I liked it lots.”
A Robot Girl Ruined My Sleepover – Rebecca Patterson
The follow up to A Moon Girl Stole My Friend is another poignant story about friendship from the point of view of a year 6 girl. This time Lyla is lucky enough to be one of the children chosen to look after the latest cyborgs who come to her school to learn how to be more like real children. Initially she is delighted and relishes the responsibility, but her best friend is dubious.
Patterson really seems to understand the complexities of emotions that children experience and they are in this book. I was particularly warmed to Louis MacAvoy, a boy who struggles with friendships and often gets in trouble at school, but clearly has a tough home life which is alluded to at varying times. While the story is set in 2099, it is all too familiar in terms of the relationships and interactions between the children.
A Moon Girl Stole My Friend – Rebecca Patterson
This one definitely grew on me. I initially chose it because it was recommended for people who enjoy Jo Simmons books, and we REALLY enjoy Jo Simmons books. I get the similarities, particularly with the titles that are designed to draw you in, but really it took us a long while to get in to the book.
To begin with it just felt really sad. Lyla is having a tough time being bullied by people at school, and instead of sticking up for her, her best friend decides to side with the mean girls because she likes feeling popular. I’m simplifying, but that’s the gist.
However, this subject matter opened the door for conversations with my son about how people treat each other at his school. Happily it seems no one is so mean to him or his friends, but it was great for him to be able to talk about how he felt about these characters.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all comes good for Lyla in the end when she renews her friendship with her BFF and all is forgiven.
I strongly recommend ‘The Moon Girl Stole My Friend’ for any KS2 children struggling with friendship issues. To confirm how much we enjoyed it in the end, we’ve already started reading the follow up – A Robot Girl Ruined My Birthday.
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is lovely. It’s something of a change of direction for us as most of the books we’ve been reading have been published this century. It’s set in a different time and it’s written in a different way to the more contemporary books we’ve enjoyed so far. Te language and the structure of Charlotte’s Web suggested to me that it was crafted rather than written. It’s really quite beautiful.
Fern saves Wilbur from being slaughtered on the day of his birth and when she can no longer look after him, Charlotte, a spider, keep a watch over him. Charlotte is a wonderfully selfless hero who exhausts herself some much in her mission to save Wilbur, that she ends up making the ultimate sacrifice. A glorious read and one that has encouraged us to explore a few more older books.
26-Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffiths
This is exactly the sort of silly nonsense I would have loved as a child. It’s suitable for children aged 6-12, but perfect for 8-year-olds. The adventures and inventions in these books are absolutely delightful – who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse with an antigravity chamber and shark tank?
As the second book in the series, 26-Storey Treehouse is sort of an origins story and my word it is a bizarre backstory. It features a wooden-headed pirate, a massive killer fish called Gorgonzola and the return of a squadron of flying cats. Plenty more fun in this series for us yet, and it’s also helping us learn our 13 times table. Bonus!
My Awesome Guide to Getting Good at Stuff – Matthew Syed
I only new Matthew Syed from his work on BBC Radio 5 Live, so was pleasantly surprised to read about his background as an Olympic table tennis player. The story of how he got to become a table tennis player and his upbringing in Reading is interesting, but not extraordinary, and that’s the point. He was just an ordinary lad, on an ordinary street who really liked table tennis, had a good coach and worked really hard at it. The advice in this book is spot on for children and adults alike, but probably more suited to children a bit older than mine. That way they will get the full message behind the book and be able to apply it to their lives.
Evie in the Jungle – Matt Haig
The follow up to Evie and the Animals from last year. It’s not vital that you’ve read the first book before reading this one, but it probably makes more sense that way.
Matt Haig is certainly a socially and environmentally conscious person and that is event in this book. Evie and her father take a holiday to get away for a bit following all the excitement of the last book. Evie being Evie, she chooses to go to the Amazon rainforest where she meets a world-renowned scientist and a number of interesting animals who she interviews.
This one is great for children who are fond of animals and interested in the environment, which in my experience is rather a lot of children.
What’s For Dinner Mr Gum? – Andy Stanton
This is an old favourite for me but new to my boy. We’ve enjoyed many an Andy Stanton book together, and this one was no different.
It’s an unusual story of love, war and friendship. Mr Gum finds a new friend and Billy William becomes rather jealous. This jealously leads to all out meat wars which nearly brings an end to Lamonic Bibber as we know it, only for Polly and her friends to save the day.
Mr Gum books are always a pleasure to read with laughs for the kids but also enough random asides to keep the parents more than interested.
The Magnificent Moon Hare – Sue Monroe
This book is bonkers. No real message. No emotional journey. Just silly, joyous nonsense. It features a demanding princess called PJ, a kleptomaniac Moon Hare called Crampyflamppluff and a very hungry dragon called Sandra who just craves a bedtime story. I wont go into detail of the plot because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, but also because it madness. However, I will say that I liked the fact that PJ becomes more tolerable over the course of the book and turns out to be quite heroic and acts largely out of love for her father.
The author, Sue Monroe, is a former CBeebies presenter and I can well imagine The Magnificent Moon Hare as a television series. If anything it might even make more sense that way. Joyous nonsense and well worth a read.
Evie and the Animals – Matt Haig
Another Matt Haig book. I’m never going to apologise for that, they’re all great. This one came out last year and I was particularly keen to read it now because the follow-up (Evie in the Jungle) is released shortly as one of the World Book Day books.
Evie is a girl with A Talent. She doesn’t just like animals, she communicates with them. This Talent gets her into all sorts of trouble, but ultimately it’s the Talent that helps her to solve all of her problems too.
My son and I both enjoyed this book. Animals are a popular subject matter for many children’s books and when you add in a super power, you have the recipe for success. I was also kept engaged along the way by the many twists and turns that made the story unpredictable. Haig leaves a few clues through the adventure and then cleverly weaves a few strands together for a pleasing ending. Perfect for lower key stage 2 children.
The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig
The is Matt Haig’s follow-up to ‘A Boy Called Christmas’, and it is equally filled with magic (or rather drimwickery). We read the first book last Christmas so were eager to read the next one this year. The first is an origins story for Father Christmas, and it’s good. Really good. And believable. It all makes sense and keeps to magic of Christmas very much alive for all children who read it.
In ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ the big man goes in search of a girl who has the most hope, to help restore the magic which makes Christmas possible. Unfortunately, the girl in question (Amelia) has had an extremely tough couple of years and proves difficult to track down and has also lost a lot of hope.
Haig skilfully and sensitively handles themes of loss, trust, love and hope and includes cameos from Charles Dickins and Queen Victoria, but it all works. We hoped and assumed it would all turn out alright in the end, but didn’t really know how it was going to get there until very near the end. It is a gloriously happy ending, but with another adventure to look forward to in the shape of ‘Father Christmas and Me’. Also, rather excitingly, ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ is being made into a film which will be released in December 2020. Can’t wait.
My Parents Cancelled My Birthday – Jo Simmons
My son and I were instantly hooked with this one because the opening chapter is: very funny; sets up an intriguing story; and leaves you really wanting to read on. It left me with the feeling that I had discovered a book I really wanted to tell people about, like the first time I read Mr Gum. I did then spend the next few days recommending the book to loads of people. I really liked the fact that it was funny and a little close to the bone (WARNING: do not read this book to a child who has recently lost a beloved pet, especially a dog).
It’s not the first Jo Simmons book we’ve read (see below for The Dodo Made Me Do It) and we’ve come back to her because I’ve really been enjoying her writing. Particularly that she doesn’t go for the lazy stereotypes that some celebrity children’s authors tend to favour. I enjoyed the relationship between the brother and sister in the book because it’s real. Yes they have their fall outs, but on the whole they really love and care for each other, like most actual siblings do.
The title is great and made me start to guess why the birthday had been cancelled. My assumptions were all wrongs and this book had many more layers to it than I had imagined. Brilliant for children aged 6-11 I would say.
The 13-Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
I wasn’t mush of a reader as a child (which seems odd given my current profession) but this is exactly the kind of book I would have liked as a boy. Not too many words on a page, imaginative plot and illustrations and not too many words on a page. The last reason was one of the reasons the person who recommended it to me said her daughter enjoyed it. She could read 20 pages really quickly because some of the pages didn’t have words on, just some awesome pictures. This is certainly to sort of thing that matters to relunctant readers.
It’s the first in a series of Treehouse stories and we will definately be reading the rest. The main characters, Andy and Terry, get up to all sorts of weird and wonderful adventures while they try to write their book. It all takes place in an epic 13-storey treehouse which is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Features include a lemonade fountain, a giant catapult, a bowling alley, a simming pool and a secret underground laboratory. Normally when I’ve read a book I enjoy I think I’d like to see it made into a film or a play, in this case I’d like to see it made into a theme park.
Daisy and the Trouble with Giants – Kes Gray
I think I’m about done with the Daisy books, but my son (6yo) is still enjoying them, so we carry on. For large parts this book is the story of Daisy and her friend imagining they are giants and all the things they get up to and I just wasn’t that in to it. So I let him read it to me instead, and that was much better. The language used is perfect for 6 to 8 year olds to access, so he has done really well with it. It also means he’s practising reading at a decent level, most days. (I really need to remember to fill in that reading diary.)
As we ploughed on with the book, I eventually grew to appreciate it a bit more. Daisy does all sorts of ‘naughty’ things through the course of the book series, but usually not intentionally. This serves as a good reminder to us as parents and teachers to find out what the child had intended to do before we dole out punishment when our children destroy our vegetable patches and such like.
We’ll probably read another Daisy book (there are so many), but might have a little break first.
The Dodo Made Me Do It – Jo Simmons
I’ve only recently discovered the books of Jo Simmons and I’m really enjoying them. I let the year 4/5 class I’m working with pick which one I read to them and they went for I Swapped My Brother on the Internet, which is hillarious. While my son picked The Dodo Made Me Do It.
TDMMDI is a charming book about a boy called Danny who spends his summer holiday in a small village on the west coast of Scotland with his Granny Flora. He is looking for adventure to liven up an otherwise tedious summer. Adventure comes along when he finds a dodo. Danny spends the next few weeks learning how to look after the dodo at the same time as trying to hide it from everybody else in the village. Much heatwarming hilarity ensues.
We have really enjoyed this story and very much look forward to reading more from Jo Simmons. Her characters and their capers really spark the imagination and draw the children in.
Daisy and the Trouble with Sports Day – Kes Gray
We’ve read a few Daisy books now and it’s taken me a while to warm to her, but I’m getting there. Much in the same way I found Peppa Pig to be a bit of an annoying little miss to begin with, Daisy isn’t the most likeable. That said my son enjoys the book immensely and my neice is a huge fan. They are the target market I guess.
In this book Daisy goes on a strict training regime to win her egg and spoon race, but obvioulsy things don’t go according to plan.
The Truth Pixie Goes To School – Matt Haig
I adored the first Truth Pixie book and loved sharing it with my children and class. Then buying copies for friends and family and hearing how they enjoyed it also, was fantastic. The follow-up, as the title suggests, sees the Truth Pixie start at school with her friend Aada.
The trouble is, Aada just wants to fit in and be normal and make friends. Tricky when you’re hanging out with a small pixie who keeps dropping truth bombs all over the place. Aada goes on a rather emotional journey of discovery and learns a lot about herself and how to treat others. Another warm-hearted book from Matt Haig with a moral message at it’s centre to help children work through and understand some feelings they may be experiencing.
You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum – Andy Stanton
The first book about the absolute grimster that is Mr Gum. And Polly. And Friday O’Leary. And that great big whopper of a dog, Jake. It’s not the first Mr Gum book we’ve read as a bedtime story. I couldn’t find my copy of this one for a while, so we’re reading them in a random order. Not ideal, but not really a problem. Although, my son didn’t get too worried when it sounded as though Jake might be dead because he said, ‘but he’ll be ok, he’s in the other two Mr Gum books we’ve read.’ Fair enough.
Andy Stanton has a real penchant for silly characters and delightful similes making this book great fun to read. Mr Gum and his sidekick Billy William are proper baddies and are truely disgusting and evil. The plot centres around Gum trying to poison Jake the dog because he keeps on trashing his garden and that makes the fairy angry. Enventually Polly saves the day and all is well. But, there is a secret, hidden, bonus story at the end, much as Stanton will try to deny it.
The Paninis of Pompeii by Andy Stanton
This is the first in a new series of books by Andy Stanton who is the author of the Mr Gum books. There is a lot more to it than the Mr Gum books and it’s more of a collection of short stories set in a ancient Pompeii. It would kind of work if you’re looking at the Ancient Roman Empire in class, but you’d have to get the children to work out which bits were historically accurate and which bits were artistic license and pure comedy value.
Like Stanton’s previous work, this book is chocked full of very silly humour (the main character is literally a fart merchant) and some fantastically named excentiric characters including Barkus Wooferinicum the family dog and a personal favourite Atrium Jamiroquai Tannicus. We look forward to the next installment in the Paninis series.
The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton
This story is great if you want to address bullying issues in class. Matthew Buzzington and his little sister move to the Big City and start at a new school. Starting at a new school can be tough at the best of times, but when you think you can turn into a fly and tell people that on a few occassions it doesn’t help you make friends. The trouble is that he fails to turn into a fly so is widley mocked. However, one thing leads to another and Matthew goes on quite the journey with the bully and his little sister.
While there are certainly funny parts to the book, it’s a departure from the usual silliness of Stanton’s books. Very much worth a read though and unlike most of his other work, this book has an important message too.
The Monkey Pirates by Mark Skelton
If you like Mr Gum books, then the humour in this one will be right up your street. Emily Jane, the main protagonist, is a girl who goes on a time travelling adventure with a bunch of monkey pirates in a wardrobe. She’s on a round-about mission to find her long-lost Uncle Bartholomew. She may well under up finding him. But she’s not really sure. My son and I both thoroughly recommend this book because it made us chuckle on many occasions.
A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig
Matt Haig is a master of his craft. He constructs stories brilliantly and each word is carefully chosen to induce a range of emotions in the reader. A Boy Called Christmas is the true origins story of Father Christmas (it really is, don’t argue) and it’s absolutely pack with festive magic and drimwickery.
While all does end well for Nikolas, the boy at the centre of the story, the book also has moments of real sadness and darkness. Like, at one point, when the boy unwittingly eats his only toy. Or when Nikolas is sent to the tower. To balance the darkness, there are also many warm and humorous moments.
A Boy Called Christmas is the first time Matt Haig introduces the characters of Miika the Mouse and the Truth Pixie, Both characters have gone on to be the central characters in others books, with the straight-talking Truth Pixie being a particular favourite of mine.
As well as a lovely story about Christmas, Haig also manages to mix in some social commentary about the media and how it controls and manipulates the world around us at time.
A Boy Called Christmas is my favourite Christmas book and it will take something very special to change that. I can’t wait to see the film.
Over the years we’ve read a lot of books. Many of the picture books are listed here. We’ve read a few of David Walliams books, a few Daisy and the trouble with… by Kes Grey books and most of the Roald Dahl books.